Thursday, January 07, 2010

"Never My Love" / The Association

I fought it, I really did. I've been agonizing for days over choosing the "right" song for my landmark 500th post. Back and forth, back and forth. Naturally I considered bestowing this honor upon the Kinks (though I've inflicted an awful lot of the Kinks on you folks lately) or the Beatles (I did get the remastered stereo boxset for Christmas). Then I was distracted by a rare flurry of activity on the Nick Lowe Yahoo message group, and began to write about Rockpile's "Now and Always," Nick and Dave Edmunds' blissful go at channeling the Everly Brothers.

But in the spirit of this blog, it's fitting that I finally succumbed to a random earworm I couldn't get out of my head. It started over Christmas, when my sister played me an oldies mix CD someone had given her. We were gabbing a mile a minute, catching up, sharing gossip, comparing children, only half listening to the thing. "I can make you a copy of this," she kept offering, and I kept refusing, saying, "But I already have all these songs." Which wasn't strictly true -- I don't have "Yummy Yummy Yummy" or "Hitchin' A Ride" by Vanity Fare (you know this 1970 ditty -- "a thumb goes up, a car slows down..."). But so many others -- "98.6" by Keith, "Have I The Right" by the Honeycombs, "Please Don't Ever Leave Me" by the Cyrkle -- yep, I've got them all digitally stowed, good to go.

And then this baby came on the stereo. My first reaction? Horrified fascination. It's too syrupy sweet, way over-produced, with hopelessly inane lyrics. And yet I know I loved this record when it first came out, in late 1967. I remember thrilling to hear it begin at a school dance, hoping the right guy would ask me to dance (was that Bruce Jordan? Mark Miles? Jeff Arthur?), and dreading that I'd have to slow dance on such an Important Song with the wrong guy (here I won't name names, but believe me I know who I'm thinking about). I can still picture the school gym hung with wilting crepe paper streamers, moonlight falling in diamond shapes through the protective steel mesh on the windows. Makes me perspire just to think of it.

Mind you, when "Never My Love" began playing the other night, I couldn't remember at first whether it had been sung by the Association or Bread. I know, I looked it up, Bread wasn't even formed until 1969. Nevertheless, it's quite possible that this very same Association track spontaneously spawned Bread, like a retrovirus. Think about it: No other Association songs were quite this soupy and saccharine, were they? "Along Comes Mary"? No. "Windy"? No. "Cherish" . . . . oh, well, point taken.

Two weeks later, my opinion of this song hasn't improved -- and yet it won't leave my brain. The final blow was struck this morning, as I was standing in a Radio Shack, forking over money for an external hard drive so I can fix my iTunes (don't ask). I heard that ponderous five-note guitar lick, followed by a splash of drums, and I knew I was sunk. At last I forced myself to listen, to figure out why this song is so addictive.(Ranked #2 of the most-requested radio songs of all time, or so I've read. ) Of course, it's a knee-jerk wedding song choice, but it can't just be that.

It certainly isn't the lyrics that makes this song so special. Each brief verse poses a question that his lover has asked -- an ordinary litany of romantic jitters, selected for their dead obvious rhymes (will there come a time when I "grow tired of you"/"lose my desire for you"/"change my mind and won't require you"). Over and over again he repeats the same lockstep answer: "Never my love." (Calling Edgar Allan Poe!) In the bridge, he wonders how she can possibly doubt him: "What makes you think love will end / When you know that my whole life depends / On you." (Second bridge, slight inversion -- "when I've asked you to spend your whole life / With me"). The sentiments are comforting, but horribly vague and cliched.

Then I had my flash of insight. What makes a song like this work is those sneaky "I's" and "you's" -- if you are already in love, you just project yourself into the song and let your own emotions do the responding. The fewer specific details the better, actually. If you are a thirteen-year-old girl, it's a no-brainer; you always have some romantic object ready to moon over, real or imaginary. Of course if you're not in love, it can make you feel like throwing a chair through the window. That's the risk the song takes.

The whole point of the Association, though, is the tapestry of sound -- the way those dense vocal harmonies (every guy in this band had a great voice) are layered on, blossoming with emotion, sliding into dissonance and then resolving. Tiny things like a keyboard fill, the counterpointed "da-da-da's," or the echoed "never my love" held just behind the beat -- they're just brilliant. (Note that Bones Howe produced this record -- I'll bet he had plenty of input on stuff like this.) This is the essence of what I think of as the L.A. Sound, mellow and yet muscular, glossy and compact -- a shimmering curtain of sound, rather than a hard and aggressive wall of sound. It's not what my heart craves, and yet I fall for its tricks, like a kid taking candy from a stranger.

Funny thing is, I know I owned this single back then -- but it was mysteriously missing from the carton of 45s my sister and I fought over later in the evening. (As the youngest in the family, she managed to grab all the detritus of our teen years after we others had left home.) Damn you, Buffie, for not surrendering "Wouldn't It Be Nice / God Only Knows" -- I bought that with my babysitting money! But at least I snagged the David and Jonathan version of "Michelle," and finally reclaimed "Mr. Dieingly Sad" by the Critters.

"But look at that big gouge on the rim -- you can't play that anymore," my sister protested. "It's all scratched, too. Why do you have to have it?" She knows perfectly well, of course, why I have to have it. Little sisters -- what can you do?


Uncle E said...

Congrats, Holly!

Mister Pleasant said...

Never My Love really is an earworm, isn't it? This may be your funniest post yet. The kicker is your Bread/retrovirus theory. Actually I must admit to liking quite a few of those 70's Bread hit singles. There is no accounting for taste.

I have a beef with the Association that prevents me from enjoying their ear candy, relating to a junior high school talent show performance of Windy by a string quartet. A quite good, all pizzicato arrangement. The issue was that it was not MY string quartet, but the other arch rival quartet. I will likely hold onto this pettiness until my dying day.

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, "If" and "It Don't Matter to Me" aren't so bad. But "Make It With You"? Bread deserves to be hung, if not castrated and then hung, for that song!

Alex said...

Congratulations on 500 posts!

It's precisely these types of songs that get stuck in our heads and burrow in... no matter how much we resist them.

While this certainly is cheez-tastic, it's well-crafted cheese filled with great harmonies (even if the lyrics are banal enough to have been on an early 70s Paul McCartney album).

Alex said...

I hate to get all Virgo about this, but what happened to the other 4 posts? According to your blog archives, this one was "only" number 496... :)

Holly A Hughes said...

Hunh. You're right! My dashboard says 500, but it looks like only 496 ever got published. The dashboard must be counting another 4 posts that never quite worked and got deleted before being published.

Guess I have to go write another four posts! (Whew -- that takes the pressure off of "Never My Love"...)

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Uh-oh. Seriously, I think I might have been at that dance ... :-)

A great post and a song that as a boy i especially didn't want to like ... but did. But the true earworm this post has given me is ... Along Comes Mary, which I openly dug and haven't heard now in what ... 40 years?? Good grief. So now I've got to see if I still like it -- most likely i do, as most music that i was supposed to outgrow I never have ... :-)

wwolfe said...

It was probably the same keyboard player on this and the Bread songs: Larry Knechtel, who was the most popular LA session keyboard guy, and who then later joined Bread. However, no matter how annoying "Make It With You" is, David Gates cannot be castrated, inasmuch as his voice on the record proves he was born without the necessary parts.

Holly A Hughes said...

Ah, yes, the late great Larry Knechtel -- or rather, Larry "Bridge Over Troubled Water" Knechtel. There's the missing link.

Your David Gates theory seems totally valid to me. A small price to pay for chart success, surely!

Anonymous said...

And The Association looked more different than any rock group. Did one of them wear glasses? I know there was an Asian.